Act now, don’t wait for tragedies like Sandy Hook

By Jonathan Cannon, December 28, 2012
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The tranquillity of Chanucah was shattered as news began to filter in of the tragic events unfolding at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We learned that 20 children aged six and seven, and six of their teachers and administrators had been murdered. As an Israeli friend put it: "We are a country that is used to being shocked, but this is truly shocking."

At the school at which I am head-teacher, we held assemblies honouring our teacher-heroes during Chanucah, one for each day. I have been imagining a similar assembly in another school, perhaps with a Christmas tree where the chanuciah was placed. I am picturing Richie Wilford coming to the microphone to make his speech. These are the words that he may have said.

"I would like to honour my teacher who smiles every day and who treats all of us as if we are her children. I would like to invite Ms Vicki Soto to help me turn on the lights of the tree. But I can't, because our teacher died trying to protect us. She put seven of us into a closet and, when a bad man came in, she told him we had gone to a PE class. But he killed our teacher and some of our classmates, and then left the room. When the good guys came, they found us still waiting in the closet, still waiting for our hero teacher to open the door and tell us it was safe to leave. We are still waiting. We will always wait."

There is no possible reason I can think of that would explain these murders. So let me talk about a few things that perhaps we can do, not to erase the memories of these young children, but to perpetuate them.

On that Friday, Noah Pozner went to schoolOn that Friday, Noah Pozner went to school

My wife, Gilly, had a nursery-school friend who was killed when the Pan Am flight blew up over Lockerbie. Lockerbie moves on, but it will never be the same. Although we have the z'chut, the privilege, to move on, we should not be quite the same again. Actions have meaning if they live beyond the relatively short time that Newtown will be in the news.

Sometimes it takes tragedy to bring us together. It should not be like that. Don't wait for tragedy; reach out now. Sometimes it takes an act of courage to rise above the crowd, but always it is the right thing to do. Life is very fragile, as we witnessed when 26 people started the day but never came home.

Those who continue to be blessed with the gift of life should take it seriously. We should not contribute to the likelihood of our own or someone else's death by driving recklessly. There are multiple ways in which we can be involved in activities that are threatening to our health or the health of others. We have the ability to prevent avoidable pain. Let's commit to making choices that give us the best chance of a healthy life, not just today, but in perpetuity.

I would not be so bold as to suggest that older and younger siblings should have a peaceful co-existence. But I want to remind you that on that Friday in Newtown, Noah Pozner went to school and didn't come home. His twin sister and older brother will never get the opportunity to speak to him again, and now they are joining their parents in observing shiva for him.

Always try to be mindful that the words we say when we leave in the morning may, God forbid, be the last words we say or hear. When you leave in the morning, make sure to tell your family that you love them. I dropped my son Jacob at school today. Usually it takes two minutes. Today it took 15. Each family got out of the car to hug their child close. Nobody honked, as they knew that when it was their turn, that is what they would do as well.

So, these are some things that we can do following this tragedy. Unfortunately, the thing we most want to do today is something that we cannot. We want to breathe life back into the lungs and place love back in the hearts of those 20 kids and six teachers who have left this world. While their lives may have been taken by someone else, let's not forget that the responsibility for perpetuating their memories belongs to us.

Hamakom yehanchem otam b'toch sha'ar avlei Tzion v'Yerushalayim - May the Almighty comfort the families of Newtown among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

And may the memories of those who died in Sandy Hook be always for a blessing.

Jonathan Cannon is the UK-born head of the Charles E Smith Jewish Day School in Washington DC. This is an extract from a speech he delivered to pupils after the Newtown shooting

Last updated: 9:14am, December 28 2012